Kathleen Gilje

Bernard Toale Gallery

In “New Intentions,” Kathleen Gilje masterfully exploited her skills as a restorer in her clever “modifications” of seven classic works of art. Replacing details from works by Masaccio, Van Eyck, and Ghirlandaio, for example, with emblems of Modern art and contemporary popular culture, she alters the identity and iconography of the original. However, unlike those who have similarly dealt with art-historical materials over the last decade, such as Sherrie Levine, Cindy Sherman, or Mike Bidlo, Gilje seems less interested in parodying painting itself than in personalizing her favorite works of art that she painstakingly researches and copies from reproductions, like a highly creative conservator. She even goes so far as to remove the original attribution (artist’s name, date, and location) from her amended titles and sign the paintings with her own name.

In Woman in Blue, Restored, 1992–93, Gilje faithfully reproduces the tonality, style, and serenity of Vermeer’s 1662 Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, a domestic scene in which an ample young woman in a blue jacket stands before a map and a desk contemplating a letter. In Gilje’s delicate oil and linen composition, her woman in blue meditates on maternity—an unfolded disposable diaper replaces the letter while a monochrome package of Pampers diapers stands in for a wooden chest. In Portrait of Cardinal Nino de Guevara, Restored, 1992, she reworks El Greco’s Grand Inquisitor Cardinal Don Fernando Nino de Guevara, 1596, by replacing the paneled door to the cardinal’s right with a section of Andy Warhol’s Orange Disaster, 1963. Gilje meticulously re-creates the anxiety hinted at by the gnarled left hands and paranoid face of the bespectacled cardinal responsible for the punishment of multitudes and juxtaposes his figure with Warhol’s repeated images of an electric chair, tinted to match the brown tones of the wooden door. Gilje removes the prominent signature of El Greco from a letter in the painting’s foreground, leaving only the word “Silence,” over an electric chair.

Gilje may be criticized for at times bordering on the clichéd. Details such as a tattoo of a bound female nude placed on the arm of a suggestive Mannerist portrait by Bronzino or U.S. coins replacing the tooled gold-leaf haloes from a Masaccio crucifixion may address issues of sexuality and commodification but they begin to take on the qualities of kitsch. However, when she inserts images from 20th-century art—replacing the Florentine landscape of Ghirlandaio’s Old Man and His Grandson, 1449, with Magritte’s surreal Castle in the Pyrenees, 1959—her craft and concept find their most successful handling.

Francine Koslow Miller